IRS Grants Friends of Abe Nonprofit Status After 3-Year Wait

Monday, 17 Mar 2014 04:00 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The Internal Revenue Service has granted Friends of Abe, a group of Hollywood conservatives that includes several celebrities, tax-exempt status three years after it first applied.

"We feel validated that the IRS agreed with our assessment that the nature of our organization is that it is not a political organization," the group's lead organizer and acting Executive Director Jeremy Boreing told Variety.

Movie star Gary Sinise launched Friends of Abe about 10 years ago as a fellowship for Hollywood industry conservatives, and it has grown to include stars such as Pat Boone, Kelsey Grammer, and Jon Voight among its more than 2,000 members. However, the group's organizers insist it neither raises money for candidates nor becomes involved in elections.

While applying for tax-exempt status, Friends of Abe hit bureaucratic red tape when it refused the IRS access to a password-protected section of its website, which included its membership list, a demand Texas Republican Sen Ted Cruz told The Hollywood Reporter in February was a "McCarthyite request for information."

"The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that Americans have freedom of association, and that groups should not be forced to reveal the names of members because that information could be abused for political gain," Cruz said.

The group's star power has attracted several other key conservative figures to speak at its meetings, including Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, former presidential candidate Herman Cain, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.

To be designated as a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization, charities and educational groups must not be considered an "action organization" that influences legislation or participates in campaign activities.

But as a conservative educational fellowship, the Friends of Abe membership grew to the point that it needed money to pay overhead costs, and the tax-exempt status will let it collect contributions, Boreing said.

The organization's request remained on hold for three years, amid suspicions that it was one of many conservative organizations targeted by the IRS.  However, Friends of Abe was not seeking the same type of status as tea party groups that had been seeking 501(c)4 designation, which allows some political activity.

"We feel the outcome is the right outcome, but after three years it is hard to be really enthusiastic. It is just a relief," Boreing said. "There are a lot of other organizations that are probably in a similar situation."

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